Men and Mental Health – Time to talk…

Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women…in 2015 75% of suicides were committed by men.
In England and Wales the most common cause of death for males aged 20-49 years old is suicide.

Scary figures and something I was completely unaware of until recently. When I think back to serving as a police officer, it has occurred to me that I never once attended a female suicide, they were all men. 

Mental health and wellbeing has a massive stigma attached to it and people are still afraid to talk about it, despite huge changes in recent years in the perception of and education around mental health, it pervades as a bogey man that many would rather ignore. 

It is particularly hard for men to talk about. This does not belittle the fact that women suffer just as greatly when it comes to mental health, but I do feel that there is a pressure for males to present a ‘manly’ front to the world.

As men, it is drilled into us from a young age, wherever we turn, that to be a man is to physically be strong, to not cry, to push through pain and ‘man up’ when things get tough. 

We don’t hug each other enough, we struggle to admit when we are finding life tough and we often feel we need to be ‘strong’ for others. In my experience, men often as they get older, have smaller friendship groups than many women and find it hard to verbalise their emotions to the close friends they do have. Often through fear of actually feeling those emotions, but also through a fear of what the reaction may be from their peers and loved ones. 

As a man, I fully admit that I do not want my friends, family or peers to perceive me as weak, cowardly, pathetic or some sort of wet lettuce man (just made that last phrase up!). My psyche had it deeply ingrained that if I cried or admitted that I was hurting or struggling I was being ‘weak’. I still struggle with this now. 

I want people to know that I am strong, dependable, brave and ‘manly’. In fact, for myself, and many other men I know, I shape my life around this. I train hard to physically keep in shape, I chose a job at the age of 20 that would challenge me to show courage and to protect others. I thrived on this and those parts of the job were what I loved about being a Police Officer…I know many others who were exactly the same. 

All of this can lead to an unwillingness to open up when we find emotional trauma or even physical trauma difficult to handle. These traumas are a fact of life and for many people will come along a number of times in life. 

I am thirty years old. I run a quality gym in Bishops Stortford, spend all my time with people I love and care about, have a supportive, loving family and generally have a great life with so many opportunities to progress myself if I so wish!! I work hard, I have friends that are good to me, I am physically well and have had a genuinely fortunate and fulfilling life so far – nothing to complain about right?!

Yet in early 2017 I found myself suffering with what I now know was depression.

All triggered by ongoing relationship difficulties with someone I loved. So yes, I had depression and it was triggered by a relationship!!!

Sounds a bit over the top to some maybe but it was very real for me…some of the advice I gave myself and received from others was along the lines of – Get over it! Get out there and meet someone new! You will be fine, just get a grip of yourself. Man up. Crack on with Tinder. It’s just a relationship – no-one has died..Etc etc. I tried all that and it just intensified things. 

Luckily I had some good people around me who were switched on enough to tell me what was going on and I got help, and slowly learned to open up about it. It was and is a slow process though. I dug deeply into my past and worked hard to understand my feelings with family, friends and a therapist over a long period of time and many many different conversations. I talked and talked and talked. I then talked a bit more and I am still talking today. 

Right now, I am much better, I feel like my life is moving forward and I have left the worst of it behind, however the feeling of ‘lowness’ easily creeps in and I have to work hard to still deal with things sometimes.

However, back then, for a long period of time I was in a very very dark place and it is almost hard to describe to people how low you can get until they have been there themselves! Nothing interested me, I felt like I had nothing to live for, training, socialising, eating good food, having sex, laughing and all the normal things I love held no joy for me and I could barely even smile some days. All a bit grim!  

However, I think its important to share the story. Some of the toughest and strongest males (physically and mentally) I know have since shared with me their stories of depression and being in very very dark places. All triggered by such different things. It makes me wonder how many more people are silently in a really bad place mentally but are simply too scared to mention it or talk for fear of losing face. Especially men. 

I am not scared of admitting it anymore. It does not make me weak or any of the things I was scared of admitting. I am stronger for having gone through it and admitting that I was struggling. If I hadn’t talked and admitted to what was happening I can easily see how things would have just kept getting worse. I now appreciate even more my family and friends, the people that were there and stuck with me when things got rough. 

So if you are reading this and know that you have had or currently have feelings of hopelessness or despair, like you don’t want to go on, can’t see a way out of it or want to harm yourself in anyway – find someone you trust and talk to them! Find a therapist or counsellor and open up. I guarantee you will just be shown how much people love you and it WILL help. 

You just have to keep going, and talk, feel the pain instead of running from it and know that everyone has different triggers. For me it was a relationship breakdown, for you it might be losing your job or the death of a loved one? Maybe you have been through something like a car accident or suffered a serious injury? Maybe you have always had this feeling hanging over you for no particular reason? 

Whatever it is, there is help out there. All you have to do is ASK for it and then work very very hard to make things better for yourself. Share this little post so that as many men (and women) can read it and maybe it will one day help that one person who really needs it. 

Coach Tom

       

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